‘Doors’ models how to bridge physical and virtual worlds

[This simple and elegant presence-evoking installation could be a model for one way to help users move between nonmediated and mediated realities; the original version of the story from Fast Company features a 1:21 minute video and more images. –Matthew]

Doors installation graphic

This Magical Door Lets You Explore The Virtual World Without Putting On A Headset

There’s a chasm between our physical and virtual worlds. This captivating installation offers one way to bridge them.

Mark Wilson
February 10, 2016

It should feel like a cliché. Doors, a project by interactive studio The Ortiz, is something we’ve seen 1,000 times before: a portal leading to another world. And yet, in watching it exist in real space where it’s examined by real people, it dawns on me that this isn’t just another sci-fi movie—and that we’re really seeing the age-old concept made real for the first time.

Doors was inspired by a modern problem. We have a real world, and we have a virtual world, but how do we connect the two with an experience more elegant than putting on a big old VR headset? The resulting thought experiment was what you see here: a digital world beckoning you through a door frame.

“I think the icon works because every kind of human and culture does share it in the world, the door, or entrance, portal that is always the beginning of ‘Terra incognita’—it’s something entirely new that can be frightening or marvelous but in any case unexpected,” says creator David-Alexandre Chanel. “That’s how a simple door became a representation of a [bridge] to other worlds. In this case, the simplicity of the metaphor makes it minimalistic and, as you say, even more striking as a symbol.”

The magic itself is born from clever design as much as cutting edge technology. Because while a motion sensor is responsible for tracking the viewer, tilting the image in real time parallax to make the flat screen appear to be a real, 3-D space with accompanying surround sound audio, it’s the design—the perspective-inducing trompe l’oeil effect—that gives the virtual world so much visual depth.

But if Doors is to be more than a thought experiment, and something akin to a real solution in how we bridge the existing chasm between real and virtual worlds, how could it evolve in a practical way within our homes? Chanel doesn’t claim to know, but he does feel like one aspect of the project in particular should be mined by the VR community.

“Although virtual reality is really full of potential, we strongly believe that it’s always more interesting for people to share experiences closer to reality … That’s why most of our work we do puts people in situation where they are in contact with virtual reality but not by isolating them inside a helmet,” he says. “Here is typically an extreme case where only one person can interact at the same time with the installation, but the experience still remains interesting for everyone around them. I guess it’s the human factor in this thing: There’s nothing more rewarding than looking through the eyes of people experiencing something entirely new to them.”

Doors’ spectator experience is like going to a movie with a friend—and suddenly the jokes are funnier, and the drama more captivating, than they would have been alone. So while we might not use Doors in a literal fashion to jack into our Oculus Rift headsets as if we’re stepping into the Holodeck—yet—maybe designers can still learn something from its social queues. As strange as it may sound, people really do like observing other people in VR.

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